Friday, October 26, 2007

Law and Literature: Two Questions

I'm in the midst of creating a syllabus for the course in "law and literature" that I'll be teaching next term. A voluminous body of scholarly literature on the subject has developed in the last twenty years or so and I've been filtering through it with great interest and enjoyment. But the part of the process that is most fun for me is contemplating which literary works to include in the course materials. I've been perusing favourites from my own bookshelves and also consulting a number of anthologies that helpfully collect together much law-related literature in one place: Trial and Error: an Oxford Anthology of Legal Stories (edited by Fred R. Shapiro and Jane Garry), Legal Fictions: Short Stories about Lawyers and the Law (edited by Jay Wishingrad), and Law in Literature: Legal Themes in Short Stories (edited by Elizabeth Gemmette), for example. But I would be remiss if I didn't also call into service the vast knowledge of the book blogging world. Are there any literary works with legal themes that you would recommend I consider for inclusion? I'm interested in literary works of all sorts whether they fit within the rubric of classic, contemporary, popular, detective fiction, children's literature or any other category. I'm most interested in short stories and poems simply because I don't think it's realistic to expect my students to read multiple novels given the time-constraints they'll be operating under, and I'd rather have them read complete works than excerpts. But if novels spring to mind, I'd like to hear about them as well. Please share with me your suggestions, either via email or the comments section below.

The other related endeavour with which I would very much appreciate assistance is the compilation of a list of poets and fiction writers who studied or practiced law. My purpose is two-fold. First, I think such a list might provide inspiration to law students who write and are anxious about their capacity to continue their literary pursuits alongside their legal ones. (Though admittedly some examples, such as Kafka who despised his legal work, or Robert Louis Stevenson who was reputed to have attended his law lectures only when the weather was poor, might cut the other way!) Second, I want to invite them to consider if and how the legal training of particular writers may have influenced their literary work. So again, please share with me the names of any lawyer-writers that occur to you.

Thanks!

Update: With respect to my second question, it seems that James Elkins has already done a very thorough job of cataloguing lawyer-poets the world over. Check out his extraordinary list here. Please keep the names of the fiction writing lawyers coming though...

14 comments:

Imani said...

For writers as lawyers I know that Guy Gavriel Kay, a Canadian author, has a law degree, although I don't know if he ever or how long he practised.

Dreamy said...

For your second question, I guess there are quite a few lawyers turned published writers in the legal thriller/mystery genre (although this might not be exactly what you are looking for), such as Grisham. Scott Turow and Philip Margolin are two others, although I haven't ready any of their work. I stumbled across this website:
http://tarlton.law.utexas.edu/lpop/legstud.html

Ted said...

Well...Bleak House is all about litigation. I had to read it as part of a course with multiple other readings, which was hard but not impossible. It could be interesting to read a couple of plays - Witness for the Prosecution, Inherit the Wind, The Child Buyer, 12 Angry Men are all about the legal process.

Richard said...

William Gaddis, A Frolic of His Own. It's completely about law--lawsuits and other law-related happenings galore.

lucette said...

Kate Wilhelm writes wonderful mysteries with a female lawyer as the main character. There is quite a bit of procedural stuff in them, sometimes in the courtroom, sometimes in the preparation of the case, w/o being dry. The main character is great--a strong woman who is always questioning herself.
Even if you don't use any of them in the course, they're great to read.

Veronica Mitchell said...

Rumpole of the Bailey, of course.

Also, have you considered Robert Cover's "Nomos and Narrative" in Harvard Law Review? It's not quite what you asked for, but it is his theory of how a nation's narrative affects its interpretation of law. I think it was published in 1980.

GeraniumCat said...

The early part of C.P. Snow's Strangers and Brothers sequence of novels deals with the main character's training as a barrister.

There's an English crime writer called Michael Gilbert who was a solicitor and a very early member of the Crime Writer's Association.

Alexander McCall Smith (No 1 Ladies Detective Agency/Sunday Philosopher's Club)is Emeritus Professor at the University of Edinburgh School of Law.

Barry said...

Kermit Roosevelt is on the Faculty at Upenn, and wrote "In the shadow of the law" which is more concerned with the actual impact of being a lawyer in a big firm than the law itself (although there is an environmental disaster case involved). Then there is Judge Savage from Tim Parks, who has an English High Court Judge as his central character. Most of the works of Louis Auchincloss seem to feature lawyers and lawyering of some sort, and half of the works of Anthony Trollope.

I'd be very keen to talk with off the blog about teaching law and literature - there are those who think I should be teaching it, but it is so foreign to anything I've done, I don't know where to start! Does the idea of having a six week summer in New Zealand appeal at all?

Melanie said...

There's always Wilkie Collins, who studied law and used legal questions as plot points fairly often. Maybe The Law and the Lady?

CLM said...

Jeremiah Healy is not only a lawyer/mystery writer, he is a former law school professor. Julia Spencer-Fleming, one of my current favorites, is a non practicing lawyer.

I would suggest that the best way to get your students to read the books on the syllabus is to email it to them before the previous semester ends.

I don't have any brilliant reading suggestions except Antigone, which is one of my favorites.

Smithereens said...

For criminal lawyers, I would suggest P.D. James' A certain justice. For 19C marriage laws, I would certainly say Wilkie Collins like Melanie mentioned!

litlove said...

Ok, I've been thinking about this. One of my favourite crime fiction writers is Sarah Caudwell who sets all her novels around a chamber of barristers (and they are very funny and witty, even about tax law). Jane Gardam's Old Filth is about a judge and I've just finished The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles in which there is an extraordinary description of a man who has broken off his engagement being forced to sign a legal confession of his sinful behaviour. That's it for now, but I'll keep thinking!

Aleksandr said...

Hello. I would start wtih the second question about writers as lawyers. Names that first come to my mind might not be so familiar - these authors aren't that well known due to the time and place of birth I guess.
In literary history of my home country two great names - former lawyers - are Anton Hansen Tammsaare and Jaan Kross (has been nominated for Nobel Prize in literature several times). One of my favorite writers in genre of detective stories is Chingiz Abdullaev - writer from Azerbaijan who has graduated a lawfaculty with LLD.
As to the books to read - Kafka "Process" is a classic piece I guess. Or stories of Erle Stanley Gardner about Perry Mason. And of course William Shakespeare.
Best of luck with the beginning.

Aleksandr said...

As an addition - Marry Shelley's "Frankenstein" might be considered as an interesting example of trial over evil one created himself.